Why Marty Stuart Is the Heart and Soul of True Country Music
Country music legend Marty Stuart will release his 18th studio album, Way Out West, March 10.
The disc was produced by Stuart and longtime Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and—as always—features Stuart’s ace backing band, the Fabulous Superlatives.
Although he’s only 58, Stuart is as valuable to the country music world as the 80-year-old Buddy Guy is to the blues or the 73-year-old Keith Richards is to rock and roll.
He’s a walking, talking link to country music’s golden past—not only in terms of his vintage-country cred, which is impressive, but because he’s one of a handful of major artists who are working hard to keep country music sounding like, well, country music.
Stuart has recorded, performed or worked with—in some professional capacity—Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt, Doc Watson, Merle Haggard, Porter Wagoner, Ralph Mooney, Duane Eddy, Vassar Clements, Roger McGuinn, Herb Pedersen, Carl Perkins and many others. His TV show, The Marty Stuart Show, is a thriving trad-country throwback to The Porter Wagoner Show that spotlights traditional country music, performers and aesthetics.
Stuart, who performed with the Hee-Haw band as a teenager in the early days of the show, also is a collector of pretty much anything to do with country music’s bygone past—especially guitars.
“The old-timers were kind of disregarded and put out to pasture,” Stuart told Guitar Aficionado in 2014. “Their costumes, manuscripts, instruments and all things pertaining to the old world of country music were being forgotten. The guitars at the time were either going to George Gruhn’s or they’d get traded in pawnshops around town. Japanese collectors would come to Nashville and buy up country culture. It seemed like the family jewels were getting away.”
One of his most prized possessions is Clarence White’s sunburst 1954 Fender Telecaster—the same guitar White played on his groundbreaking recordings with the Byrds in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The guitar is equipped with one of the earliest Parsons/White B-string benders, which was installed by White and his Byrds bandmate Gene Parsons, who designed and built it.
But he doesn’t just own it; he plays the hell out of it, truly doing justice to the legendary instrument. He brings a sound—a sound that could’ve perished along with White in 1973—roaring into 2017. You can hear it, in all its wiry, bendy glory, on Way Out West. Just check out “Whole Lotta Highway (With a Million Miles to Go)” below. You hear it in the song’s intro, but it really shines at 1:21, when the guitar solo kicks in.
“It’s an indescribable guitar,” Stuart said. “You could put a hundred Telecasters in a row, and when you plug this guitar in, it just has a voice all its own. It is absolutely one of the most magical guitars I’ve ever played.”
White’s wife essentially gave the guitar to Stuart several decades ago (the price was so low, she did indeed practically “give it away”). It’s as if she donated an organ—a heart, if you will—to someone who could make the best possible use of it. As a result, Clarence White’s “heart” still beats loud and clear today.
Check out “Whole Lotta Highway” and the album’s title track below (at the very bottom of this story)—and stay tuned for more info about Way Out West.
Since we’re on the topic, check out this “reunion” of sorts. It’s a recent performance of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” by Stuart and Roger McGuinn, who sang the Byrds’ version of the song (from 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo). Although White didn’t play on the studio recording (that was Lloyd Green on pedal steel guitar), he performed the song with the Byrds countless times before his departure from the band in late 1972. This clip, which shows McGuinn on the same stage as White’s guitar for the first time in years, is from an episode of The Marty Stuart Show. Enjoy!
Way Out West Track List:
1. “Desert Prayer – Part 1
2. “Mojave ”
3. “Lost on the Desert”
4. “Way Out West”
5. “El Fantasma del Toro”
6. “Old Mexico”
7. “Time Don’t Wait”
9. “Air Mail Special”
11. “Please Don’t Say Goodbye”
12. “Whole Lotta Highway (With a Million Miles to Go)”
13. “Desert Prayer – Part 2″
14. “Wait for the Morning”
15. “Way Out West (Reprise)”